Heart in the Clouds

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Grateful - 11/28/10 (Hallelujah Chorus)

To me, there's something so moving about the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah. Lately there's been an outbreak on YouTube of flash mobs singing the piece in various public places...department stores, mall food courts, etc. It doesn't matter how many times I hear it, though, I get chills and I'm all choked up. I think I feel that way because the wonder and mystery and majesty of my Jesus seems to be encapsulated in the feeling of that song. It is a piece of music that at least attempts to give Jesus the credit that is due him, whether the people singing it even believe what they're singing or not.

My emotions have been tied to my faith since I was a child, and music has always been a part of that for me. That's probably why old hymns hit me at my core. It's why pieces of music like the Hallelujah Chorus make me want to turn my face to heaven and smile and say, "Thank you."

So I will continue to watch every single Hallelujah Chorus flash mob video that pops up on the Internet. It makes me feel less important in my own eyes, and it makes my problems seem a lot smaller. It doesn't matter to me where or how it's sung...it's the truth to me and it's majesty in music, and it will never get old.

Here are two versions:

Today, I'm grateful for...

A new baby. There's beauty in the beginning of a new life. It's solemn and joyous and new and scary and crazy and emotional and tiring, but it's beautiful. Knowing that that little baby boy will be a man someday, with his own purpose and calling, is a heavy thing to think about. But it will be fun to watch him grow. He has two great parents who love the Lord, so that's the best start any child could ask for.

Christmas lights. This weekend, it seems that everyone now has their Christmas lights put up. It's the beginning of a season that I love. As much as I love Thanksgiving, I also love the Christmas season--funny, though, that the actual day I could take or leave. I love the feelings of Christmas. I love the setting. I love the idea of celebrating Jesus' birth and what it meant for him to come as a baby. All of it. It's like Thanksgiving on speed. People go nuts over presents and purchasing goodies, but I could honestly care less about that. I just want Jesus and I'm so glad to celebrate him, whether it's Christmas or not.

A fun weekend. It was seriously great. It was Thanksgiving. My brother and his family came in town. I got to go to a Penguins hockey game. My friend had her baby on Thanksgiving. I also got to see a group of people with whom I went to high school, some of whom I hadn't seen in 18 years. I got to spend family and friends time, fun time and food time all in the span of one weekend. Really, you can't beat that.

Reminders. Sometimes we need an occasional reminder of God's faithfulness. As he has promised, he will never leave us nor forsake us, and he will provide for all of our needs. And he continues to do so for me in so many ways.

Laughter. I have people in my life who make me laugh. Laughter truly is the best medicine, whether you're sick in body or sick at heart. God created it in us because he DOES it. I think funny people have a gift that they don't even realize is truly a gift.

Our new TV. Sounds like a shallow gratitude, I know, but Sean waited all night on Black Friday to get this TV and it's one sweet TV. :) It's not gigantic or anything, but it's flat and it's mounted on the wall. Pretty.

I hope you take the time to laugh today. I hope you remember that joy is at the center of this season when we celebrate Jesus giving up everything to be one of us. I hope you keep reminding yourself that it's the little things that matter, and that you can learn from anyone. God is faithful all the time.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Grateful - 11/21/10 (A shift.)

Today I'm grateful for...

Sunday mornings. I like do-nothing mornings. Sundays, for us, are family time, usually spent in our pajamas. It's even better that it's sunny and frosty. Everything is sparkly outside.

Waking with a song in my heart. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkwJ-g0iJ6w )  Every so often, I wake up singing and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's to signify that my spirit knows that a hard time has passed. I don't know. I had a bit of a rough week, but I woke up this morning acutely aware of God's presence and his faithfulness. It was a welcome change. :)

God-directed "random" acts of kindness. When God tells you to do something for someone, do it. This week, I felt really strongly to do something for a specific stranger, and when I did it, it really made the person's day and made them feel like someone cared. I encourage you to do that this week, too. Listen for God's voice when you pass by a stranger and follow what he says. Don't preach at them. Don't shove the Bible down their throats. Just be you and love them. You are God's hand extended.

The smell of cinnamon rolls and coffee. Ain't nuffin' better.

A shift. This week, I experienced what could be the death of a dream...or at least MY version of the dream. I allowed myself my "wallowing time" and then I decided to let go. Maybe God has something else. I already know that "good" is the enemy of "best", so maybe my version wasn't the best version. While I know nothing is impossible with God, I'm making myself ready to let God be the one to put focus to my blurry vision. He knows what's going to happen. Nothing comes as a surprise to him, and I know he's got plans to prosper me and protect my heart. While I still find myself a little sad when I think of what could be, I know that I am in good hands.

A new opportunity. I'll tell you about it if you send me a message (some of you already know), but I'm going to wait on talking about it here on the blog. I feel like it's a "God thing," though, because it's a job that kind of fell in my lap only a few days after I told God that I'd take whatever opportunities he brought across my path. Amazing and it feels so random...although I know that God is anything but random. :)

Ugg boots. It's that time of year again. I hate cold weather, but I love my cozy boots.

The layoff. While the summer layoff was a really great time, this time around it's taken me longer to remember how awesome it can be. I'm grateful that Sean can collect unemployment while he's waiting to hear about another job. We've lived well on a lot less, so I know that there's no problem with money. I don't worry about money. I guess, though, that it's taken me longer this time because I feel like I'm getting closer to whatever change God has been preparing me for. Change is good, but it's also stressful. Adding MORE change (like a layoff) into the mix makes me uneasy if I focus on myself, but keeping my eyes on God lifts me above present circumstances.

I hope you know that things will get better. I hope you know that if you open yourself to whatever God has to give you, you are opening yourself to GOOD things. While it's easy to see our dreams as "the best" that could happen to us, God is the one who knows what "best" really is. He's got more extravagant plans than we do and he can orchestrate them down to the minute. There are no coincidences. There are no chance meetings. There are only opportunities to see God in every situation. That's what gratitude is--seeing God in every situation and thanking him for being there.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Grateful - 11/15/10 (Five Qualities of Grateful People)


I had another opportunity come up to write a piece for RealZest.com. Here's the article. Let me know what you think!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It sounds cliche, but a holiday where gratitude is the main focus is my kind of celebration. I’ve been on a journey of gratitude for the last two years and it has changed my life completely. I have tried hard to stop putting my attention and energy into the things that don’t matter, or into drama and the people who cause it.

Since I decided to make gratitude one of the central focuses of my life, the thing I’ve found the most difficult is finding things to be thankful for when things aren’t going my way. I think that’s the most life-changing part about gratitude, though. When you begin to find within yourself the ability to be thankful in ALL circumstances and you choose to focus on the good things, you find that complaining and pessimism tend to leave a bad taste in your mouth, even when you see it in other people.

There are amazing qualities present in people who are grateful all the time. I sometimes find I’m just a tiny bit envious of those people because I’m still on my journey. But I know everyone is on a journey. I know I’ll likely never get there…wherever “there” is…but the more I focus on the good, the closer I will get to the heart of gratitude that God has for me. So in honor of my favorite time of year, here are the top five qualities that I notice in grateful people–qualities that I want to see in myself as I keep walking this road.

1. Truly grateful people are humble.
Humility isn’t something you can do. Perhaps this comes from my many years as a pastor’s kid, but I can pick out of a crowd the people who are trying to appear humble. Humility is a gift. It’s a flower that sprouts out of what looks like rocky, barren ground. It often takes root when a person goes through trials or personal downfalls. It’s the beauty that comes from knowing who you are and knowing you are loved, despite the fact that you’re flawed and imperfect and undeserving.

If someone you know claims to be humble…well, first of all, that’s a red flag right there…they’re not. They’re ESPECIALLY not humble if they spend all of their time complaining or whining or dramatically languishing whenever trouble comes. Humble people are happy givers who are fully aware and in awe of the grace bestowed on them. They know that God is faithful and they live their lives in that knowing. They aren’t self-seeking or self-absorbed. They have the ability to love, even when it’s not reasonable to do so. I want that gift. I’m not there yet…I likely will never be, but God is working on me.

2. Truly grateful people are content.
While I’ve been noticing this in myself occasionally as time goes on and I am choosing to focus on the good, but I am aware that I’m still a work in progress. I’m learning that contentment doesn’t equal complacency. Complacency is focusing on self. The dictionary definition is “uninformed self-satisfaction”. It’s about allowing myself to stay in one place because it’s easier. Focusing on gratitude takes our eyes off of ourselves and puts them on God’s blessings and the positive sides to our circumstances.

Daily counting your blessings and all the good things present in your life makes you content. You realize you need nothing more than those few important things. You become less focused on fruitless ambitions and material things. You become more present in your life because you finally realize that life isn’t about what you get or about who you know. It’s about the blessings you already have and the people who love you.

3. Truly grateful people aren’t judgmental.
This is another place where the humility comes in. Grateful people are humble, thus they are less likely to judge other people. They already know what they have been given. Judgmental people are insecure, and they try to find fault with others because they are afraid of or blind to their own faults. When you’re deeply grateful, your focus is on the good. You even begin to focus on the good in other people. You’re not naive, but you allow love to overrule your fears and judgments.

4. Truly grateful people don’t gossip.
Gossip is intended to tear other people down. When you’re grateful and humble and content with your own life, you are less likely to speak badly of others, especially behind their backs. Something present in gossip are the issues of comparison and jealousy. We usually gossip about people to make ourselves look better…we’re not secure in our own significance.

Sadly, it’s human nature to compare ourselves to other people, in good ways and bad ways. Gratitude helps us go against the grain and make the choice to love ourselves enough to NOT compare. Choosing not to gossip is difficult at times. When you’re in a group and everyone is talking about one person, it’s hard not to enter into the conversation. It takes practice and it takes will.

5. On the flip side of that, truly grateful people are encouraging.
They are a pleasure to be around because you leave their presence feeling like everything is going to be okay. I know people like this–almost all of us do. They exude peace because they are the type of person to put a hand on your shoulder and lift your spirits with a kind word. We gravitate toward people who are encouraging. If you want friends, be friendly. If you want encouragement in your life, encourage!

So these are some of the qualities that I want in my life. Maybe you do, too. You don’t have to do what I do and blog about it or even write it down every day, but in the next month, try to focus on the good. Instead of putting your energy into negativity, try listing the positive things about your life. If there’s someone you want to stop gossiping about, try listing the good things about them and think about ways you can encourage them.

As I’ve said before, gratitude is a discipline. Just like any other discipline, it takes practice and hard work, but the end result is so worth the time. If you practice enough, I promise you’ll see little changes that will become big changes that will become LIFE changes as you keep going.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

You have to read this...

It's not gratitude-related, but it made me laugh. I used to write update e-mails during my first pregnancy. I'd send them to all of my family and friends, so reading this really took me back and made me smile. Enjoy.

Hey, there!

Well, folks, once again it is time for the monthly e-mail regarding the amazing and wonderful Colligan baby! Please keep your arms and legs inside the car at all times...The roller coaster is about to leave the station. I know you have all been waiting on the edge of your computer desk chairs, clamboring for more information regarding uteruses, placentas and such. Yes, it has been a month since the last e-mail. I can't believe it.

Anyway, as is usually the case when I write one of these e-mails, I have just returned from the doctor. This time, as is also the norm, I went bearing two questions, one of which I forgot. So, I asked her the burning question every pregnant woman wants to know...namely, "How long do you let people go overdue nowadays?" Her answer wasn't too inspiring. She said, "Only 10 days, so you should actually think of that as your due date." Okay...ummmm...HUH?! What is THAT about? But, she calmed my fears by saying, "Hey, you never know, he could come early..." to which she added a little evil chuckle. All I have to say about that is HA HA...very funny, lady.

So, they weighed me...another UGH! See, my stupid scale at home told me I have only gained about 4-5 pounds since my last doctor visit. However, I didn't realize that, since the scale came from IKEA, it likely came with a little Swedish instruction manual, which, as usual, I didn't read, that held the formula for figuring out my ACTUAL weight. The formula is basically this: WHAT THE SCALE SAYS + 10 BILLION POUNDS= MY ACTUAL WEIGHT. Yes, folks, the water weight gain is catching up to me.

We listened to the baby's heartbeat, as we normally do. OR I should say that we ATTEMPTED to listen to the baby's heartbeat as we normally do. However, since this is MY child, he doesn't like to sit still. So, every time the doctor would put the monitor to my belly, the baby would punch it and then quickly move out of the way. Smart kid! Already trying to get out of going to the doctor's office. So, we heard snatches of his heartbeat mixed with loud punching noises. The doctor exclaimed, "Wow! He's very responsive, isn't he? A very active child!" Ha Ha...I'd like her to be there at three in the morning saying that when the baby decides to have his wild house parties and play BABY TWISTER!

Also, we found out that the baby is now in a "head-down" position. So, in the last month, he moved from being lengthwise across my abdomen to now having his head pointed downward. Also, since this is Sean's baby, as well, this means that his legs are as long as sequoia trees. So, whenever the baby decides to stretch his legs, that usually means he is stretching into my stomach, my diaphragm or outward from under my ribs. When he does this, you can see these big bumps poking out of the top of my belly and moving around. It's pretty cool...even at 3 in the morning. I wouldn't trade this experience for anything.

So, on Monday morning around 1am, Canadian Thanksgiving Day, the first of my pregnant friends actually went through with it! She gave birth to an ACTUAL, REAL baby! OMIGOSH! Let me just say that this makes things much more real. From the sound of things, she was originally wanting to go "natural," but one of the first things her husband said to me when I saw him was, "GET THE DRUGS!" Seems like her labour was so long that she was ready for narcotics when they finally admitted her to the hospital. What have I been telling you, folks? IT'S ALL ABOUT THE DRUGS! So, anyway, congratulations Bebbie and Sasha on the birth of Lily. I can't wait to see her.

We finished our Prenatal class. I'd have to say that one of the most memorable classes, aside from Fernando (the guy who is embarrassed about uteruses and cervixes and grossed out by any mention of body fluids) watching the graphic birthing video, was the one where we watched Nuno give a demonstration of how to bathe a newborn. If you don't know Nuno Marques, you may not think it's too funny, but let me just say that Sean and I and Nuno's wife, Amanda, were in tears (no, not from fear, necessarily, but from laughter).

First of all, the teacher hands Nuno a Cabbage Patch doll, complete with bright yellow yarn hair. Then she says, "Okay, Nuno what do you do next?" Okay, there was no actual water in the little bathtub, but if there had been, what Nuno did with the baby would have caused a huge splash. So, SPLASH!!!!, the baby goes gently into the water, making sure that she gradually gets used to the temperature...So, then, the teacher says to Nuno, "Uh-oh, Nuno, the phone is ringing. What do you do?" The next thing we know, the Cabbage Patch doll is planted safely face-down in the bathtub and Nuno runs for the phone. You should have seen the look on the teacher's face. Then, it came time to dry the baby. The teacher said to Nuno, "Now we need to take the baby out of the bathtub and dry her off." So, Nuno takes her by the legs and THWACK!!! the baby is gently placed, plastic head first, on the table as Nuno gently begins to dry her. Nuno was great! I have to say that he's going to be a great father.

The other great part of the class was the breastfeeding demonstration. The teacher threw a pile of baby dolls and stuffed animals into the middle of the floor and it was a free-for-all as everyone, including the men, ran to pick a baby to breastfeed. Sean picked two little stuffed gingerbread people, so he could try the twin baby thing. So, the teacher asks us to hold the babies a certain way and then proceeds to show us, using herself as the example, how to make what is very technically known as "A Breast Sandwich." Hmmmm...Well, at that, Sean and Nuno start doing that little-boy-in-health-class chuckle that you know is only going to end in disaster. I won't go on from there, but you have to assume that seeing Sean and Nuno making the aforementioned "Breast Sandwich," giggling all the way, was truly a moment to remember. I wish I had had a camera for that one.

Anyway, from here on out, I will be going to the doctor every two weeks until the last couple of weeks where I will go every week. It's getting closer, folks. Less than two months. I'm excited, I'm nervous and I'm happy. Sean talks to my belly every day and he always tells the baby how much he loves him. It's really cute. I know that Sean's going to be a great father. Also, the dog has a little thing where I tell her to kiss the baby and she nuzzles my belly with her nose. It's cute.

Whoo!....just had a big knee bulge!...everyone say hi to the baby!

Well, that's it for now. I'll fill you in, once again, on all the lovely details of pregnancy in another couple of weeks. I hope you have enjoyed your adventure in Baby Land on the Pregnancy Roller Coaster. I'm glad you didn't throw up in the loops...those G-forces can do a number on your stomach.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Book Review - "Pagan Christianity"

Review: http://www.amazon.com/review/R4TEJ2WHGH5M/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

Buy the book: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/141431485X/ref=cm_rdp_product

I recently reviewed "Pagan Christianity" by Frank Viola and George Barna on Amazon.com.
It really made me think, but it also gave me insight into why I feel the way I do about institutional church. It put into words feelings I've had for a long time that I couldn't find a way to verbalize. Check out my review (below) and buy the book (link above) if you're so inclined. The book is a very interesting read.



As a pastor's kid, a student in denominational Christian schools, and then as a member of a large pastoral staff, I never could put my finger on why certain teachings rubbed me the wrong way. I never could articulate why I didn't fit into the mega-church/church growth mentality. I had no way to express the unrest in my spirit when I heard people say that dressing up showed respect for God. This book did it for me.

"Pagan Christianity" presents the factual history on the origins of certain church traditions. This book was written to be paired with Frank Viola's other book "Reimagining Church", so "PC" deconstructs and "RC" constructs a vision for getting back to the concept of church at its most basic, without all the well-intentioned (but misguided) man-made frou-frou.

In the past, I didn't know how to handle my questions, though, or how to put them in the context of pastoring when the traditional setting was part of my job. I think that's why I always felt unsatisfied or like something was wrong and also why I probably put people off with my lack of "umph" when it came to DOING church and following a particular format.

Many people never even question WHY and they take the word of man and think that we should just do church a certain way because that's the way it's always been done. I think Frank Viola and George Barna would agree that the point of "Pagan Christianity" isn't to make people drop everything and change, but it's to at least make us question WHY we do what we do and to see what actually lines up with what God originally intended for his church. Also, it's about looking at the Scriptures in context and examining where our ideas of church actually come from.

People are afraid of change, especially within the confines (often an appropriate word) of institutional church walls. They're afraid of not having a middle man between them and God, much like Israel's desire for a king. I've done the traditional pastor thing, and I've also participated in things being done a new way. I can honestly say that when GOD is the one leading things in a new direction, it's a smoother transition than if we were to just try to change things ourselves. It's hard for pastors, though, when they rely on the church for their income. It's scary.

Many people deceive themselves into thinking that questioning why we do certain things in church is heresy. Especially in traditional denominations it seems, people have been taught to do certain things in the name of godliness or holiness when, really, Jesus' blood is the only thing that can make someone holy. It becomes all about appearances and impressing man.

I think it's easy to look at where Jesus says, "No one comes to the Father but by me" and know that it's true in your heart. However, when your church leadership is telling you that you should dress a certain way or act a certain way or participate in a certain way, they are presenting people with the idea that they come to God through Jesus, but in the manner that the particular church thinks it should happen. Church tradition for tradition's sake can be just as much a form of bondage as habitual sin. It's easy to believe that God sets me free from sin, but it's hard to believe that God needs to set me free from doing unnecessary and unbiblical acts "in His name".

I highly recommend "Pagan Christianity" for anyone who is ready to think through and to confront their preconceptions and traditions, when it comes to institutional church and how "church" should be done. I felt like it was a well-written, fact-filled feast for my spirit, and it wasn't written in an angry or in-your-face manner. You can tell that the authors are passionate about the information they are presenting. I am actually considering reading it again, even though I finished it only two days ago.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Grateful - 11/12/10

Today, I'm grateful for...

Being shiny. Today, Mr. Mastroianni, my 88 year old walking buddy, told me that every time he sees me, it's like everything about me is shiny. I took that as a huge compliment and it was uplifting to me. :)

Getting over it. I'm finally starting to get over the hacking cough. TMI, but stuff is coming out and I'm happy about that. The sooner I can get to where I don't sound like I have tuberculosis or whooping cough, the better.

Open windows in November. The fact that it's warm enough to open my windows to the blue sky and breeze is fabulous. Thank you, God, for pick-me-up weather. I can only handle so much of the gray and cold. That's probably why gratitude is the hardest for me in the Winter...lol.

Knowing everything is going to be okay. God lifts me up in so many ways. FB chats with friends, Scriptures that pop into my head, comments from my kids, the still, small voice in my heart--I don't have to listen too hard to hear God's voice. I'm grateful for that.

Babies on the way...for other people. I'm so glad that some of my friends and relatives are having babies. There's nothing sweeter than a newborn. The tiny cry, the little feet and hands, the fuzzy head, the wrinkly skin...so cute. I can't wait until Slavina's baby, Gabriel, is born and until my new niece will be here next year. Babies are a gift. Maybe that's why I've considered gestational surrogacy. I love the idea of giving Christian couples the joy of adding to their family, but I can't imagine doing it all again myself. I guess you never know, but I plan to get my fix with these new little ones. So exciting!

Encouragement. God knows how to encourage me. I'm odd. I'm grateful that God knows my heart and he knows my quirks and he loves me anyway. He's good that way.

Change. Sometimes, when I feel a change coming, it's easy to get uptight and worried. But God is good about giving me peace if I ask for it. He brings change because he wants it. I am learning to go with His flow and embrace things as they come. He is faithful to not give me more than I can handle, even though I question that at times. :)

My hope is that you learn to wait for God. It's so easy to want to push ahead with whatever we're doing, especially if it feels like God is taking too long. Sometimes, though, he calls us to wait. He's not dragging his feet, but he's teaching us patience. Psalm 27:14 says, "Wait for the Lord. Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." Often, the strength comes in the waiting. I hope you learn that waiting isn't a bad thing. There are so many foundational truths to be learned when you're in a holding pattern. God is faithful to us, even when it feels like nothing is happening.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Grateful - 11/5/10

Today, I'm under the weather. I know it will pass, but I feel awful. So to add some brightness to my day, I'm choosing to be thankful when I feel like crap. That's the best time, I guess, right?

I'm thankful for...

Sparkly people. There are people who just sparkle. They have a presence about them that makes them glisten. :) They are the people who make you laugh when you're down. They are the people who call you when you're going through a hard time. I'm grateful that I have a few sparkly people in my life, and I know that God put them there.

His rod and His staff...they comfort me.

Friday movie night. It's a tradition I hope to continue with my kids as they get older. Tonight, we snuggled under blankets in the family room and watched a movie, Toy Story 3. When it got to the part where Andy's mom gets upset as he's leaving for college, Liam turned to me and said, "Do I get to choose when I go to college?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Then I'm never going." He got choked up at that part. So cute.

"Pagan Christianity" by Frank Viola and George Barna. You know how I feel about Brennan Manning's books, right? Well, this book was on that level for me. It was a "right time" book. There are some books you read and you feel like it's not the right time for you to receive whatever message the authors are putting across, but this was the right time for me to read this one. I felt validated and I felt a lot of questions were answered for me. I never knew why I felt I didn't fit in in certain religious settings, or why certain things about institutional church made cringe. This book was a vaildation of all the things I couldn't put into words in the past.

Making new friends. Sometimes God brings new people into your life at just the right time.

Road trips. We had a great time hanging out with old friends in Ontario this week, and we had a fun time together as a family, as well.

Tylenol PM...'nuff said. It helped me sleep last night.

Jesus. He's the reason for everything.

I hope something amazing and timely happens for you this week. I hope you remember when it happens that God is behind every blessing.